According to a 2016 US Bureau of Statistics report, the average restaurant-employee turnover rate surpassed 70 percent that year, and Anthony Dinkins, senior vice president of human resources at Fiesta Restaurant Group, says that in key markets for brands such as Pollo Tropical and Taco Cabana, those numbers may be closer to between 130 and 160 percent.
Add to that consistently low unemployment numbers (the Austin, Texas, market is currently flirting with the possibility of 2 percent), and it’s enough to raise alarms in the restaurant world.
Dinkins wants to harness his HR experience, cultivated in a number of different industries from communications to cruise lines, to enhance Fiesta Restaurant Group’s recruitment and retention efforts.
“There is no organizational challenge that Tony does not have the experience, the character, and the courage to face and resolve,” says Amy Acker and Maryanne DiMarzo, cofounders of Beacon People Solutions. “The field of HR is honored by his association.”
Here’s a look at how Dinkins reached the company and how he’s making a difference in the lives of all its employees, from restaurant managers to those on the front lines.
Employee hiring shortages across the restaurant sector require unique and novel approaches in both recruiting and retention. Dinkins fine-tuned his skill set at Carnival Cruise Lines, where he gained experience handling high-volume hiring for the more than six hundred employee call centers.
“Those call centers were your sales engine, so it was essential to keep those rolls staffed,” Dinkins says. It also gave him vital experience working with a large group of staff whose wages were at entry level (with high incentive compensation opportunity) and whose turnover was significant.
Dinkins developed his experience further at Cable & Wireless Communications, where customer engagement and experience were once again essential concerns. Dinkins says he also learned firsthand about how a company can make a positive impact by becoming an active presence within the communities in which it operates.
On the governance side, Dinkins spent time working on board-related matters at multinational software company Citrix, which he says was a useful addition to his toolbox.
A Full-Scale Assault
Fiesta Restaurant Group has made a number of innovative and aggressive moves to bolster and maintain its attraction and retention policies.
“We have a great executive leadership team and a very creative, high-energy leader of the recruiting team,” Dinkins says, adding that the company continues to look for outside partners through which to source and attract new talent. Fiesta’s partnerships with Indeed, Zip Recruiter, and Snagajob have helped drive talent in its direction. “We want to be visible where candidates are inclined to look,” Dinkins says. “My hat is off to the recruiting team in the work they’re doing to try and come up with new ideas and creative ways of doing that.”
Fiesta also recently boosted its employee referral bonus program in an effort to recruit further through the company’s best promoters: its workers. “The best retention tool is to be surrounded by people that you’re comfortable with,” Dinkins says, adding that anyone who brings in a new hire also enjoys a cash bonus.
The Training and Development team also recently launched a career-path program. “When you have roles where people are joining—some in their first job ever—it’s important, if you want to attract and retain talent, to show them how they can grow in as specific terms as possible,” Dinkins says. “The career pathing actually shows how you can grow, learn, and establish new skills from different positions within the restaurant so that a motivated entry-level team member can become a manager in two years.” Dinkins believes these milestone denotations will provide a clear message that Fiesta Group is serious about developing its talent into future leaders.
In addition, Fiesta’s Military Veterans Program is in its early developmental stages, and Dinkins says it will fast-track viable candidates through the career-pathing program. “We know the military teaches very valuable life and leadership skills,” he says. “We’re doing this because it’s the right thing to do, and we want to give people an opportunity to transition into civilian life in a meaningful way.”
Retention through Regard
In a unique move within its industry, Fiesta is also providing its restaurant managers with equity in the company. “Our restaurant managers are the lifeline to our business and our customer ambassadors,” Dinkins says. “We want them to benefit as the company grows and succeeds.”
He adds that he’s proud that at the team-member level, Fiesta is offering voluntary medical and short-term disability benefits in a partnership with Allstate. “A majority of our employees are part-time workers, and it’s important to be able to provide some type of affordable support for these members of our team,” Dinkins says.
The company’s crown jewel and defining program is the Fiesta Family Foundation. The internally funded 501(c)(3) nonprofit assists employees who have been hit with hardship or who have special financial needs. When Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma hit the South in 2017, for instance, “we were able to support our employees financially and get them back on their feet,” Dinkins says.
In 2018, Pollo Tropical celebrated its thirtieth anniversary, and Taco Cabana celebrated its fortieth. Dinkins says both brands have been able to thrive because of the familial and respectful atmosphere of Fiesta, and he pledges he’ll continue to do more by focusing on metrics such as promotion rates, succession planning, and restaurant staffing levels. Ultimately, he says, it’s about keeping the company’s best.
“You’re not going to be able to hire your way into success,” Dinkins says. “Retention is key.”